Urban enclaves provided a source of social and economic stability for Japanese immigrants, despite the fact that the difficulty of finding employment led many toward rural and agricultural pursuits. The cultural conservatism fostered within these enclaves helped deepen the gap between Issei, or first-generation immigrants, and the fast-changing national culture of Japan. It also deepened the gap between Issei and Nisei, the second-generation immigrants.
Little Tokyos, or “Japantowns,” arose in cities and towns across the United States for reasons that reflected the natural needs of a new immigrant population. Their greatest concentration occurred along the West Coast. The continued robust existence of these enclaves into the 1930’s and early 1940’s, however, was partly the result of the sometimes severe racial prejudice and discrimination against Asians, and specifically the Japanese, that prevailed in the United States during the late nineteenth and early to mid-twentieth centuries.
Among the influences leading to the formation of Little Tokyos, the dormitory-style boardinghouses run by early Japanese had particular importance. In
Shop in Los Angeles’s Little Tokyo that was forced to sell out its entire stock before its proprietor was sent to an internment camp during World War II.
Although the enclaves proved important for community reasons, the tendency of many Japanese immigrants to work at agricultural occupations encouraged their moving away from urban areas. The Nisei tendency to distance themselves from their Japanese heritage, moreover, worked against the long-term success of the enclaves as active communities. The enclaves’ existence remained strong up to the time of World War II, however, due to prejudicial land-ownership policies in
The equivalent enclave in San Francisco
Enclaves were of importance not only for the mutual economic support but for nurturing a nascent Japanese American culture. The literary magazine Leaves, for example, was the work of Los Angeles Nisei, as was the Sunday literary supplement, in English, of Japanese daily Kashu Mainichi.
In contrast to the forward-thinking Nisei, the
The wartime propaganda film
Resettlement policies in the wake of World War II led to the intentional geographical dispersal of large numbers of Japanese Americans, upon their release from prison camps. This dispersal accelerated the integration of the Nisei into larger American society and acted as a further element in the diminution of importance of the Japantowns in Japanese American life.
By the early twenty-first century, only three officially designated “Japantowns” still existed. These included Los Angeles’s Little Tokyo, which was declared a National Historic Landmark District in 1995; Japantown, San Francisco; and Japantown, San Jose, California.
Daniels, Roger. Asian America: Chinese and Japanese in the United States Since 1850. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1988. Solid overview of the immigration histories of the two Asian immigrant groups. Hosokawa, Bill. Nisei: The Quiet Americans. New York: William Morrow, 1969. Written by an important Japanese American journalist, this book provides a broadly inclusive, fact-filled portrait of an American generation and remains a definitive study. Lyman, Stanford Morris. Chinatown and Little Tokyo: Power, Conflict, and Community Among Chinese and Japanese Immigrants in America. Millwood, N.Y.: Associated Faculty Press, 1986. Illuminating comparison of Chinese and Japanese immigrant populations, documenting their differences of cultural outlook and the impact this had on the assimilation of each group into American society. Takahashi, Jere. Nisei/Sansei: Shifting Japanese American Identities and Politics. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1997. Examination of the complicated relationship between first-, second-, and third- (Sansei) generations of Japanese Americans. Yoo, David K. Growing Up Nisei: Race, Generation, and Culture Among Japanese Americans of California, 1924-49. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2000. Valuable account that provides a detailed examination of life in Japantowns, with notable focus on the press.
Alien land laws
Japanese American press